Justice and Witness Ministries
Thirty-six years ago, the Open and Affirming Ministry Team of the Historic Massachusetts Conference convened for the first time. Six years later, the Historic Rhode Island Conference partnered with the Mission Evangelique Baptiste Bethesda churches in Haiti. Both groups are still active today - a testament to the dedicated volunteers that comprise our Justice and Witness Task Teams and partnerships, 13 groups in all at present. Team members donate their time, gifts, and passion to educate and guide churches, speak to state legislatures, demonstrate, collaborate, conduct grass-roots work in their chosen area of interest, and build international relationships that enrich all involved.
With the formation of the Southern New England Conference UCC in 2020, these teams have stepped into a new role: representing the SNEUCC. Connections were created or strengthened during the Justice and Witness Summit held last December in Manchester, CT for the purpose of connecting and envisioning a future together. In the spirit of the new Conference’s vision, we have seen a willingness to reach out, to collaborate, to explore new possibilities, to push boundaries.
To help familiarize us with these task teams and partnerships and the justice work they do on behalf of the Southern New England Conference UCC, we have compiled descriptions of their work. Should you feel called to learn more about a team’s work, please let us know here and we will put you in touch with the team chair person.
Actual Justice (Prison) – Jon Tetherly, Chair
Our task team was formed about 10 years ago as the Innocence Commission Task Team of the Massachusetts Conference, tasked with creating an Innocence Commission for the commonwealth, following 11 other states. We eventually saw that as a less effective way to deal with the problem of innocence, and moved to support for particular bills, often in concert with other religious and secular groups. We lobbied for post-conviction DNA testing, which was successful.
Since then, we have supported legislation including: ending life without parole, placing male opioid users in medical facilities instead of correctional facilities, making parole more accessible, ending solitary confinement, support for the 2018 omnibus criminal justice bill, lobbying for a more faithful police reform bill, efforts to release appropriate inmates from the covid - 19 threat in our jails and prisons, attendance at MA statehouse hearings for bills we favor, beginning work on state by state legislation, including CT and RI, to release primary caretakers from incarceration, and more. While other religious and secular groups are working on the same or similar issues, our goal is to involve UCC members in the effort, with a regular presence at Super Saturdays including our recent October, 2020, Super Saturday workshop with the Restorative Justice Task Team in support of Families for Justice as Healing.
Disability Ministry Team - Jacky Schofield, Chair
Founded in 2008 by the Historic Connecticut Conference, this inclusion team is an extension of the UCC Disabilities Ministries Board and acts a liaison between the Board and the Southern New England Conference.
The mission of the Disabilities Ministries Team is to encourage and guide our local churches as they journey toward full accessibility and better understanding of people with disabilities, so that they may experience the extravagant welcome that the United Church of Christ seeks to extend to all people. We work to foster the understanding that all people are “abled” within the Body of Christ and that all people bring their own special gifts to Christ’s Table.
We have led workshops about becoming an accessible church and congregation, led educational programs, and preached. On Super Saturdays and Annual Meetings we have staffed a vendor table of resources. In 2017, the team sponsored a resolution calling the Conference and all its settings to be an "Accessible to All" Conference, working to remove and/or overcome barriers to welcoming, and including, all people in the work and witness of the United Church of Christ.
Disaster Resource and Response Team – Fred Meade Chair
The Disaster Resource and Response Team provides resources for congregations, pastors, lay leaders and individuals to aid in preparation for a possible disaster situation and deal with the aftermath. Additionally, the DRRT responds to congregations in the Southern New England Conference that have experienced a disaster situation, with a long-term goal of helping our churches and pastors move through response, rescue and recovery toward a new normal.
Environmental Ministry Team – Barbara Darling and Victoria Guest, Co-Chairs
Our team is keenly aware of the urgency of the climate crisis and the tragic reality that it threatens God’s beautiful creation and exacerbates every type of human injustice. Therefore this crisis calls us to love our neighbor by advocating for climate action, in congregations and at local, regional, and national levels. We are forging a three-state team with the formation of the new conference, and as a team we see education as the foundation for advocacy and change. We believe that using our voice is essential for change. Taking positions and endorsing public policy issues, and encouraging others to do so too, is an important part of using our voice, and we try to amplify that voice by joining together with interfaith partners.
We have an important core group of churches who have become “Green Congregations”- presently 63 congregations total—and we are always looking for more churches to join. In our recent Congregation Climate Justice Voter Challenge, 625 members of 78 different SNEUCC churches signed the Creation Care Voter Pledge, promising to vote and to prioritize God’s earth in their voting. We have a social media presence via Facebook and Instagram. And our team shares a Missioner for Creation Care with the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas.
Health and Wellness Team - Debbie Ringen, Minister of Health and Wellness
The Health and Wellness Team follows the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus by providing resources, programs, and conversations supporting wellness, and resilience of mind, body, and spirit for clergy, lay people, congregations, and communities. The team has developed webinars, a Super Saturday workshop, programs, blogs, and Health & Wellness Chats focused on supporting resiliency for leaders throughout the SNEUCC.
Promoting an understanding of the integration of faith and health is woven throughout the team's activities including educational opportunities about health ministry and the practice of faith community nursing for congregations.
The vision of the Health and Wellness team is to build a network of individuals, congregations, and communities engaged in promoting wellness through education, advocacy, and collaboration. Sign up for the Health & Wellness Chat every other Tuesday at 11 AM. Anyone interested in joining the task team should contact Deborah Ringen, Transitional Minister of Health & Wellness, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Immigration, Refugee & Asylum Task Team – Joanne Dickey and Cindy Worthington-Berry
This task team works to equip individuals and congregations to take faithful action towards supporting immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. We have done that by:
- Seeking to stay in relationship with immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers
- Leading workshops and trainings at bi-annual Super Saturday events (these have focused on witnessing the stories of migrants and preparing individuals to take faithful action in their own churches and communities)
- Visiting churches who have invited us to come to their communities and lead educational events surrounding immigration
- Setting up a Sanctuary Fund that solicited donations for churches in Massachusetts that were actively keeping an undocumented person in sanctuary
- Serving as accompaniment volunteers in churches hosting undocumented immigrants in sanctuary.
Interfaith and Ecumenical Task Team – Polly Hamlen, Chair
The Interfaith and Ecumenical Task Team is a body of ministers and laypeople who are active in local interfaith and ecumenical relationships. We come together as a body to share and support interfaith and ecumenical relationships and events across our region. We stand in witness of the UCC's commitment to unity with fellow Christians and support and love for other faith traditions.
We act by sharing information and support through our website and Facebook page; hosting Super Saturday workshops; and providing networking opportunities for organizations and individuals. This task team was established in the Historic Massachusetts Conference as a resource for both churches and the Ecumenical Officer of the Conference.
ONA Ministry Team (LGBT): Kathie Carpenter, Chair
The ONA Ministry Team assists churches with the ONA process by phone, on-site, with workshops, forums and sermons and through materials; facilitates “Building an Inclusive Church” curriculum to church teams; presents LGBTQI issues workshops at Super Saturday; wrote and revised national ONA study materials; communicates through the Conference website, posts new ONA churches, national news, blogs, events, newsletter articles; ongoing email contact with ONA churches; welcome emails to new ONA churches, and distribution of info on how to organize an ONA ministry.
The team facilitated the trans-inclusive revision to the 1984 MA ONA Resolution, in 2012; presented CT-created Bullying Resolution in 2018; provided education through passage in 2019; expanded bullying resources list and offered SS bullying workshops; provided transgender info and hands-on work in the legislature for a decade; education during annual meeting, events in churches, and public witness. View some recent photos of activity by the ONA Ministry Team.
Restorative Justice Task Team: Brenda Nolan, Chair
In 1999, the Historic Massachusetts Conference took a stance that local churches should be encouraged to study and promote restorative justice, help implement restorative programs in local settings, and to “struggle for an end to the retributive justice system as we know it.”
The Restorative Justice Task Team has hosted trainings, promoted dialogue, and advocated for legislative actions in line with restorative/ transformative justice principles.
The team looks for ways to create the mindset shift from the authoritarian, retributive, rewards, punishment, and the emotionally repressive system we are all born into, to one that holds respect for life and human dignity.
Chile Partnership, Chris Ney, Chair
Global Mission Partnerships
In 1985, the Historic Massachusetts Conference entered into a Mission Partnership with the Pentecostal Church of Chile (IPC), an independent denomination founded in 1947 under the leadership of Bishop Enrique Chavez. Bishop Chavez held strong ecumenical commitments, joining the World Council of Churches in 1961, a first among Pentecostal denominations.
The UCC-IPC mission partnership, known in Spanish as pacto hermandad, has developed under the leadership of the Historic Massachusetts Conference and Chilean Bishop Ulises Muñoz. Over the last 30-plus years, this partnership has developed many activities. For example, the Historic Massachusetts Conference supported a missionary in residence from Chile, Pastor Oscar Aguayo and his family. And in partnership with Global Ministries, churches of the Massachusetts Conference supported a ministry for the elderly in Chile with the creation of a Hogar de Ancianos.
Colombia Partnership, Charlie Pillsbury, Chair
Since the adoption of the Colombia Resolution by the 2001 United Church of Christ General Synod 23, the Historic Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ, through Global Ministries, has partnered with the Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia. The Peace Commission works with a wide array of churches in Colombia, seeking to build peace and work for human rights in the midst of Colombia’s ongoing armed conflict.
Haiti Partnership, Suzanne Swanson, Chair
The Haiti Task Force was founded in the historic Historic Rhode Island Conference of the United Church of Christ 30 years ago, when the late Rev. Dr. H. Daehler Hayes, Conference Minister at the time, partnered with the Rev. Jean Dorisca, the founder of the Mission Evangelique Baptiste Bethesda (MEBB) churches.
Numerous groups have traveled to Haiti since 1990, and the Task Force continues today more dedicated than ever to its Mission: providing education, quality health care, orphan relief, spiritual support, and community-based services for the people of Haiti. We do this through student and school sponsorships, financial support for a medical clinic, sustained friendship and joint advocacy for positive change.
The Historic Connecticut Conference has maintained a vital and exciting ecumenical partnership with the Kyung-Ki Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in South Korea since 1994. Individual churches commit to establishing partnerships with Korean churches with the help of the Korean Partnership. Congregations work to build a relationship with each other, learn about each other’s culture, and grow in faith together through visits, communications (cards, social media, email-pals), and by hosting delegations. The most recent trip, including 10 delegates from Connecticut, took place in 2018.
Want to learn more about one (or more) of these groups and their work? Fill out this form.
Karen Methot communicates with congregations, pastors, and lay leaders around justice issues via email, website, and social media, and serves as staff liaison to nine justice task teams. Contact her to: Request support for your church when going ...